The French denied it, and then acknowledged it: the Portuguese claimed "technical" reasons, the Spanish outright lied about it, and the Italians weren’t saying much: 48 hours after Bolivian President Evo Morales was "kidnapped by imperialism," as his Foreign Minister put it, and refused overflight rights upon returning from a conference in Moscow, the explanation for why his plane was stopped in mid-flight and forced to turn around got even murkier. As Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo explained later:
"We were told that Snowden was inside. I can work with the data they give me. . . . They said they were clear he was inside…."
"Garcia-Margallo wouldn’t say who ‘they’ were, though when he was asked why European nations had acted the way they did he said, ‘The reactions of European countries were because the information they gave us was that (Snowden) was inside. We measured the risk. But once I had written assurance that Mr. Snowden was not on the plane . . . I believe in the word of a friendly nation, and Bolivia is a friendly nation.’"
It isn’t necessary to speculate who "they" are, now is it? Let’s just savor this rare moment, when the strings moving the puppets are so clearly visible and Europe’s pretensions to "independence" and "sovereignty" so clearly laughable. Just as President Obama feigned indifference to Snowden’s fate by disdaining the prospect of "scrambling jets" to get him, he was ordering his European vassals to do just that. Beneath the cool, calm, measured tones of this above-it-all President lurks a petty, vindictive, ruthless operator, whose brazen hypocrisy is surpassed only by his sporadic tendency to indulge in reckless aggression. For surely it was an unprecedented act of aggression that forced down the plane of the Bolivian president, an act that could only have been commanded by and from the White House – and to what effect?
With admirable restraint, a McClatchy reporter describes how our Keystone Kops got it so very wrong:
"It began when an American official failed to notice that the target of their hunt – fugitive former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden – was at one airport and the Bolivian presidential jet was taking off from another, about 35 miles of horrible Moscow traffic away."
While the exact identity of this official will doubtless remain a mystery – is anyone in Washington ever held accountable for anything? – did he or she get a dressing down for setting off this embarrassing false alarm? After all, as one of the earliest reports of the plane diversion indicated:
"Government planes carrying foreign officials to diplomatic meetings in Moscow typically arrive and depart from Vnukovo Airport, which is also the main airfield used by the Russian government, rather than from Sheremetyevo, where Mr. Snowden arrived from Hong Kong on June 23 hours after American officials had sought his extradition there.
"The speculation that Mr. Snowden would hitch a ride on a government jet was discounted by the fact that the plane would have to first make a quick flight from one Moscow airport to the other."
Discounted by the Russians, but not by the clueless Americans, who – ever since the well-publicized raid on Osama bin Laden’s lair – seem to be living inside a third-rate Hollywood action-adventure epic. There’s the Prez in the Situation Room, watching the dramatic raid unfold in real time: and there he is again, tracking the escaped Snowden aboard the Bolivian presidential plane as it crosses into Western Europe, into what we used to call the FreeWorld – where it suddenly hits the equivalent of a brick wall.
As half of South America denounces the brazen arrogance of those Yankee imperialists – and the other half sadly nods in silent agreement – lost in the shuffle is the inexplicable error made by some nameless American official. Was it an error – or a shot across the bow?
It makes no sense to assume no one in Washington knew what airport Morales was flying out of. However, it makes perfect sense to assume US officials knew all about the ALBA nations’ plans to champion Snowden’s cause: they hardly made any secret of it. And by pushing for this North-South confrontation, the debate over what Snowden has actually revealed (so far) is framed in terms more conductive to the administration’s charge that Snowden isn’t whistle-blowing, he’s engaging in espionage on behalf of America’s enemies.
As I predicted in a previous column, Venezuela is Snowden’s likely destiny – that is, if he manages to elude the US authorities. The reason is because both the US and Venezuela have something to gain if Snowden winds up in Caracas. There are, however, certain logistical problems, and these are inextricably mixed up with the politics of the Snowden affair.
Aeroflot commercial fights take off regularly from Sheremetyevo airport, but these must take the same flight path as Morales’ presidential plane – before it was stopped cold just as it was about to enter French airspace. Portugal blocked the Bolivians, and Spain, too, was a no-go, as was Italy. In any case, in order to reach Cuba, the logical stopping off point before venturing on to Caracas, or perhaps even Nicaragua (best option) or Bolivia, Snowden’s plane would have to cross American airspace.
As the dragnet tightens around Snowden’s neck, resembling in all respects a noose, the revelations contained in the documents he took with him continue to pour forth from the pages of the Guardian, and a big picture is beginning to emerge. What the US government is apparently intent on creating is a globalized intelligence capacity with the ability to scoop up all electronic communications generated worldwide, whether telephony or online, store it, organize it, and call it up for later reference. Omniscience being the prerequisite for omnipotence, what they aspire to – and, perhaps, have gone a long way toward creating – is the ability to spy on anyone, anywhere, in real time.
The real scandal is how this was all "legalized" by Congress, which expanded the FISA courts’ authority and set up a parallel court system that did an end run around the Constitution. By establishing a secret "court" accountable to no one, a Star Chamber where only the government got to make its case – and which has rubberstamped all but 11 government requests for surveillance out of thousands – Congress planted the poisonous seed whose monstrous spawn is strangling the Tree of Liberty.
Thousands marched this fourth of July weekend against the Surveillance State and in support of Snowden, Bradley Manning, and all those other patriot-whistleblowers whose courage is informing and inspiring a new generation of American freedom-fighters. Expect the Orwellian hate campaign against Snowden to pick up a few notches as the leader of the "Free World" gets closer to hauling in the world’s most famous political dissident – an irony our rulers haven’t even begun to grasp the implications of. Or have they?
Imagine they capture Snowden: let’s say the Russians, tiring of his continued ghostlike presence in their airport, agree to turn him over to the Americans – in honor of the emerging US-Russian "partnership" unveiled by Putin the other day. What then?
The charges Snowden faces are violations of the Espionage Act, but are not, in real terms, acts of espionage as it is commonly understood, i.e. spying on behalf of a hostile power. He is simply charged with theft of US government documents and turning over classified information to individuals not entitled to receive it. This charge, which is difficult to prosecute, has rarely been leveled against individual freelancers, because the prosecution must prove intent: that is, government lawyers must show the accused acted in the belief and with the knowledge that harm would come to the United States. It is hard to prove even when real espionage is involved, as was the case with the prosecution of Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman.
Here were two top employees of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying group, charged with violating the Espionage Act when they milked Pentagon analyst Lawrence Franklin for classified information and fed it directly to Israeli embassy officials. Franklin was caught red-handed and agreed to wear a wire in his dealings with the AIPAC spies: the FBI trailed them as they met on Washington, DC, street corners and hurriedly changed restaurants three times when they thought they were being followed. FBI wiretaps recorded the gleeful triumph of Rosen and Weissman as they reeled in this big Pentagon fish and fed him to their Israeli handlers: Rosen and Weissman even arranged for a meeting in the Pentagon cafeteria! The Rosen-Weissman case never came to trial: after many months of legal maneuvering over what could and could not be made public at trial, and several rulings in favor of the defense, the government finally dropped the case. It was either that, or else reveal some carefully guarded secrets about the extent of Israeli spying in the United States.
The Snowden case, if they should ever get their rotten hands on him, would present similar problems, albeit on a much larger scale. A show trial would backfire in several directions: to begin with, it would reveal more about the government’s spying apparatus than anyone in Washington wants the public to know. Aside from that, however, it would dominate the headlines for a long time to come, mobilizing opposition to the administration and its policies even as new revelations come out. And, finally, if the question of whether Snowden’s act of conscience is a crime is ever put to a jury of his peers, there’s no telling what their answer will be. Short of declaring Snowden an "enemy combatant," and hauling him up before some "military commission" consisting of David Gregory, David Brooks, and Rep. Peter King, there is no way for this administration to dispose of its growing Snowden Problem neatly and cleanly.
In capturing Snowden, his captors will find they have been captured by him – and perhaps the more far-seeing of his would-be pursuers realize that. In which case, perhaps they’ll decide everybody would be a lot better off with Snowden in Caracas, where everything he says and does takes place in the shadow of an openly "anti-American" regime.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.